I stared wide-eyed at the door to my toilet cubicle, wondering what I should do.
I could hear women whispering outside.
"There has to be someone inside," said one. "It can only be locked from within."
"Oh dear ... do you think someone killed herself in there?"
My mouth fell open. I looked up at the window above me, wondering how it would look if I crawled out of the bathroom from that window. I imagined Fire and Rescue trying to get me down, coaxing me not to kill myself. And then I would become a headline. Perfect. The day could not get any worse.
But no, I was not trying to kill myself. I was just trying to escape Sunday service!
I laugh hysterically about it now. As some of my friends would say, "It's such a Liz thing to do!" But back then, I was so, so, so miserable.
On that fateful day, I was overcome by a wave of despair and nausea when I walked towards the church sanctuary. Immediately, I fled to the restroom just in time to burst into tears in the cubicle, wondering what the heck was wrong with me.
There was a rational side of me that was fascinated by this, but I horrified that my face now bore the tell-tale signs of crying.
For a few weeks before that toilet incident, I found that I could no longer step foot in the church sanctuary. Like, I literally could not enter it without being reduced into a crying mess. Hilariously, I would tell people I was "overcome by the Holy Spirit", but in truth I was overcome by such strong feelings of dread, despair and loneliness that I couldn't do anything but weep.
I had no idea what was going on with me. I thought I was losing my mind. Now, many years later, I realised that what I had was Post Traumatic Church Syndrome - which is actually a term Reba Riley coined in her memoir of the same name. Like me, she had “odd symptoms”.
Once, I broke down in the carpark of the shopping mall with my friend at my side, wailing, "Why has church become so miserable? What is wrong with me?"
What happened was that I was witnessing systematic abuse and manipulation from the pulpit, but was told to squash my natural inclination to protect my psyche and boundaries for the good of the church. I was also squashing who I really am in order to be a shade of myself, and to don a persona that was acceptable to the community. The worse part of that was that it wasn't working. I felt even more of an outsider than before.
Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Like Riley, I also had physical symptoms. I once had dizzy spells for a month. I would get nauseous when I drive to church. I became so fatigued that I couldn't get up for most of the day.
One of the biggest things that I hated about the church I was attending then was how they handled money. The pastors there encouraged people to give money so that they could be blessed three fold. Once, I watched, horrified, as people raced to the pulpit (some even fell in their haste) to stuff money in a box on a stage. I was also confused when a pastor yelled at us for complaining about the senior pastor buying a luxury car for himself.
A few weeks after the restroom incident, I confided my reservations with what the church was doing to a few trusted church friends. To my disbelief, my friends turned on me, calling me traitorous and urging me to return to the right path. When I declined their kind offer ... they disconnected from me.
I was stunned by the turn of events. Shouldn't Christians be kinder, more accepting than this? What exactly was happening here? Still, I had hope things would change.
Towards the tail end of my Shifting period, I decided to be exorcised.
True to my Pentescostal indoctrination, I wondered if spirits was causing the disturbance in my life. So, when a cell group leader told me about the benefits of "group deliverance", I obligingly signed up.
Finally, a solution! Once the spirits of rebellion, loneliness and despair was kicked out from me, I shall emerge a pristine, well-behaved, happy Christian!
But, as I sat at the back of that room with my other to-be-exorcised mates, listening to the pastor telling us to ask God's forgiveness for having indulged in yoga, ikebana and other inappropriate heathen behaviours, I felt something bubbling from within me.
I began to giggle.
I looked at the box at my feet. It was the “vomit box”. When the spirits came out, I was told, prepare for other expulsions.
I chuckled. I closed a hand over my mouth and covered it with a cough.
Around me, some people were moaning. Others were loudly thanking God. One was running the whole gamut, gagging and vomiting, and being, supposedly, scrubbed clean inside.
Here was I, in a room with ten other believers, asking God to forgive me for indulging in the art of Japanese flower arrangement while preparing myself to vomit into an empty converted tissue box.
Damn, this was hilarious.
And I felt something shake lose within me.
It was the Real Me. The Me with an irreverent sense of humour, who found the grimmest things funny, who swore like a sailor. The me that lifted a skeptical eyebrow when presented with an all-or-nothing declaration. The Me I had been trying to suppress in thought, words and action the last few years.
She was back.
I excused myself from the deliverance and went to the bathroom. This time, not to cry, but to smile at myself in the mirror. It was nice to see me again. Really, really see me.
And I said to my reflection: "I can't do this anymore."
And that's when Unravelling began.
Next in the My Shifting Faith series: Unravelling: When faith falls apart (March 8). Do bookmark the blog series post schedule or subscribe to the blog to have the posts delivered to your inbox so that you do not miss a post. (You will also receive my posts outside the blog series.)
Photo by Volkan Olmez